Opelika arrived in Hueytown on Friday with the challenge of stopping a well-revered running back duo that powered a top-flight offense. It left headed back to Opelika with a win and a spot in the state semifinals.
The Bulldogs took care of the Golden Gophers in dominant fashion, taking down Hueytown 45-24. The win featured an impressive performance by the offense – which set a program record for the most points in a state quarterfinals game – as well as a stellar showing by the defense which limited Alabama running back commit Roydell Williams, who fumbled more than once to help the Bulldogs’ hopes.
Now, Opelika has its sights set on a trip to Spanish Fort that could end in the team’s third-ever trip to the state championship game.
“We’ve always said all year that at certain points, the defense is going to rise, then the offense will rise in some game,” Opelika coach Erik Speakman told 97.7 The Kicker after Friday’s win. “The offense did it tonight and kept us in the game until we could settle in. What a fabulous job by our coaches, our kids, the band and everyone.”
Red Devil domination
For the second straight playoff game, Central-Phenix City had to beat a team for the second time this season in order to advance. For the second straight week, the Red Devils did so in dominating fashion.
Central grinded out a 38-0 victory over Auburn in the state semifinals Friday, scoring 17 points in the first half before putting the game away with two more touchdowns in the third quarter. Central’s success started up front, where the Red Devils’ offensive line allowed its rushing attack to a pair of touchdowns and blocked for quarterback Tucker Melton, who threw two touchdowns in the win.
Central’s goal since last December has been returning to Jordan-Hare Stadium and winning the third state title in program history. Now, the Red Devils gear up for a rematch with Thompson on Dec. 4 for the right to call themselves back-to-back champs.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Melton said as the celebration started behind him postgame.
The rise of the Tigers
Friday’s loss to Central offered a bitter ending to the season for the Auburn High Tigers, but the defeat didn’t undo the success the team had in 2019.
Auburn faced several crossroads in 2019, from the uncharacteristic 2-2 start to the year to losing starting quarterback Matthew Caldwell late in the year, but each time the year could have turned sour the Tigers responded. Among the team’s greatest achievements in 2019 was the team’s stellar 26-0 road victory over McGill-Toolen in the state quarterfinals, which knocked out Class 7A’s last unbeaten team.
Although the season-ending loss stung, Auburn head coach Adam Winegarden and his players understood they still had plenty to be proud of.
“I thought we had a great season and thought this senior class did just a fantastic job,” Winegarden said. “I really think they’ve laid even a greater foundation in our program culture. Their relationships are going to last forever and ever. I think they got everything they could out of this team.”
Lanett head coach Clifford Story doesn’t consider himself an emotional person, but he found himself emotional during the Panthers’ quarterfinals game against Isabella. His son, Lanett senior quarterback Kristian Story, gave him plenty to be emotional about.
Story entered the game two touchdowns away from setting the AHSAA state record for career touchdowns and blew past it with six scores in the Panthers’ 41-21 victory. Story also set another state record for career yards in the win, which meant he broke two record held by Pinson Valley’s Bo Nix in one night.
Clifford stopped the game briefly after the second touchdown to award his son the game ball and to let everyone know what just happened. Clifford said he’s by no means a coach who concerns himself with statistics, but the numbers that were surpassed Friday were ones worth embracing.
“I almost teared up,” Clifford Story said. “I was trying to keep it focused, but my inside was bawling. As a father, you’re so proud of your son.”
Solace in The Swamp
Glenwood’s season-long goal of gaining “one more yard” and reaching the state championship game came to fruition on Friday. Although the final result once the Gators got there was not ideal, it doesn’t overshadow how far the Gators’ football program has come.
Glenwood couldn’t keep up with Bessemer Academy on Friday, as the Rebels got two nearly back-to-back touchdowns late in the first quarter to help take a 21-0 lead into the locker room. The Gators made plays in the second half, but the Rebels’ offense never slowed down en route to a 49-22 victory.
After the loss, Glenwood’s Jason Gibson reflected on how far the program has come since he took over as head coach prior to the 2016 season. Gibson eventually teared up talking about his players and cut his interviews short but not before saying this was hopefully just the start of Glenwood’s time as one of AISA’s top programs.
“This is the new standard, and hopefully with the standard we can get our program to where Bessemer is and be here every year and continue to add to our program every year. I think the senior class kind of helped build that,” Gibson said. “It's a bad day today, but tomorrow we'll get up, breathe again and start all over. It starts tomorrow.”